Despite surging inflation and fears of an upcoming prolonged recession, nearly every business sector is still experiencing a talent crunch. There’s no hiding the fact that organizations invest untold amounts of time and money in the search for top talent.

But what many companies fail to recognize is that, many times, the talent they’re searching for already exists within their organization. Often, skilled talent can go unrecognized if organizations aren’t actively mentoring and coaching the employees they already have.

Uncovering Hidden Talent

A global survey of over 15,000 workers discovered “trapped potential” throughout organizations. Specifically, many businesses are failing to notice their people and, consequently, are missing out on the value they have to offer. The survey also found that almost one-half of workers below manager level do not feel they are fulfilling their potential at work.

Every person should be able to fulfill their potential at work, regardless of their ethnicity or background. This is not just a business case: It’s primarily a moral one. However, the reality is that many people don’t fit the standard mold of “executive presence” and as a result, their talent and skills can go overlooked, holding them, and the business, back from achieving key goals. The notion of executive presence disproportionately holds minorities — including women, people of color, people with disabilities, and even people who have more introverted personality types — back from advancing at work and fulfilling their professional potential.

So, the big question is: How can organizations go about uncovering skilled talent and untapped potential from within? The answer, for many, can be found in mentoring.

Research shows how powerful the impact of mentoring can be. For example, a Gartner and Capital Analytics study found much higher retention rates for mentees (72%) and mentors (69%) than employees who did not participate in the mentoring program (49%).

Mentoring offers a wealth of benefits for both individual employees and the organization at large. A well established mentoring program has the power to bridge remote working gaps that have become commonplace in today’s business environment and can transform the employee experience by breaking down barriers to advancement, introducing different perspectives and creating safe spaces to learn and grow.

One of the less explored advantages of mentoring, particularly in a program that promotes knowledge transfer, is its ability to help leaders uncover skilled talent and leadership potential across the organization, as well as helping individuals discover hidden talent within themselves.

In reality, an employee’s skills may go unnoticed in group learning and development (L&D) scenarios. But the one-on-one engagement that mentoring offers can help leaders discover knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that may have otherwise remained under the radar.

A Real-world Example: Mentoring at Vita Health Group

At Vita Health Group, we knew the U.K.’s health care staffing shortage would become even more acute, particularly in the mental health sector where, post COVID-19 and now heading into a recession, services would be in high demand and the need for mental health professionals would likely exceed supply.

In such an environment, it was imperative that we explored all options to increase our capacity to maximize the help we can give customers through what has been, and what will continue to be, a very challenging time. Proposition development and skill mix initiatives would help ensure we were using all staffing groups to maximize the effective care we can give to our customers. But our strategic focus was also to maximize the impact from our current employee base, as well as giving ourselves the opportunity to attract top talent.

In Spring 2022, we launched a unique mentoring program at Vita Health Group, “Thrive.”

It is not, as some mentoring programs are, available only for high-potential employees (HiPos). Instead, it is a program open and available to employees at all levels within the organization and gives people the opportunity to be seen and heard.

Thrive is a team-style mentoring program where, instead of the mentee being limited to one mentor, the mentee works with multiple mentors from different departments. Mentors and mentees are matched on a number of aspects, including a psychometric tool and, in most cases, they know little about each other ahead of the sessions. With little-to-no preconceptions of one another, both the mentor and mentee tend to be more open to the experience.

This style of mentoring program has enabled mentors to identify talent the organization did not know existed. It has been key in unlocking hidden gems in, and therefore potential of, our teams and the organization. In fact, there have already been internal promotions since the program’s inception. Not only that, but mentees report that their self-belief has developed and, now, they are having valuable conversations with their mentors. This is enabling them to recognize their skills and take the action needed to advance their careers. For instance, some employees have developed the confidence to apply for more senior roles within their departments.

Maximizing Potential

A mentoring program that encourages rich conversation, promotes active listening and introduces individuals to different dynamics and diversity across the entire workforce can be a powerful tool for organizations, particularly for those that are looking to maximize the value of their current employee base.

Mentorship helps individuals connect their deeper human motivations and values to their careers. It helps organizations uncover hidden talent and skills that a mentee may think is irrelevant to their role … but could prove to be invaluable to the business.